President Joe Biden on Friday presented the Medal of Honor to retired Black Army Colonel Paris Davis for his heroic service during the Vietnam War — after paperwork recommended him for the honor that mysteriously “disappeared” in 1965 — and again four years later.
Beginning his White House remarks, Biden called the awarding of the country’s highest military honor “the most important day since I became president.”
Davis sat to the right of the president, staring into space as Biden laid out his heroism and his service in an army that had only recently been desegregated.
President Joe Biden awards the Medal of Honor to retired Army Colonel Paris Davis for heroism during the Vietnam War
Paris helped write the history of our nation. And this year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our first fully integrated armed forces,” Biden said. “Paris Davis will still stand alongside the nation’s pioneering heroes.”
“You are everything this medal means – I mean everything this medal means,” he said. “You are everything our country is at its best.”
A Vietnam veteran, Davis was one of the first black officers to lead the Green Beret forces.
He stood outside the White House after the ceremony to address reporters. He was asked what it meant to receive the honor, but he went looking for notes.
‘Let me find an explanation. I should read to you – for I haven’t read myself!’ David joked to reporters.
He read from a piece of paper and said, “Thank you, President Biden. This medal reflects what teamwork, service and dedication can achieve.’
“God bless you, God bless all, God bless America,” he added.
While under fire from North Vietnamese forces near Saigon in June 1965, Davis dragged fellow servicemen to safety, even after a shell ripped through his teeth and his trigger finger.
He refused to leave two of his comrades behind. One of them, Billy Waugh, spoke decades later of how Davis “grabbed me, and he (dragged) me, after being shot several times and unable to walk.
“I need only close my eyes to vividly recall the bravery of this individual,” he wrote years later, in 1981.
Retired Army Colonel Paris Davis, a Vietnam veteran, was one of the first black officers to lead the Green Beret forces
President Biden shakes hands with Colonel Davis
The paperwork recommending Colonel Davis for the Medal of Honor was lost twice
Davis was nominated for the Medal of Honor shortly after the event.
But the Army lost its paperwork in 1965. A commander filed paperwork four years later, but it went missing again — sparking allegations of racism. A 1969 military review revealed no Medal of Honor file on Davis.
His comrades suspected that racism was at work.
“What other assumption can you make?” team member Ron Deis, then 77, told the New York Times in 2021.
“We all knew then that he deserved it,” he said. “He certainly deserves it now.”
Waugh and his former commanding officer, Billy Cole, each recommended him for the honorable mention.
As they continued, his lawyers contacted former Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who ordered an expedited review of the case.
CBS asked Davis last year if he thought race was a factor. “I don’t think — I know race was a factor,” he said.
According to the Times account, based on post-action reports, Davis had teeth and his trigger finger was blown off by the grenade in June 1965 after his team came under fire. She and about 90 South Vietnamese troops remained under fire.
He fired with his little finger and ran into open areas to help his comrades.
According to the Army Times, Davis repeatedly sprinted into an open paddy field to save every team member. His entire team survived. Davis refused to leave the battlefield until his men were safely removed.
Born in Cleveland, Davis retired in 1985 at the rank of colonel and now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington. Biden called him several weeks ago to deliver the news.
Colonel Paris Davis in Vietnam
‘This medal reflects what teamwork, service and dedication can achieve’ – Colonel Davis
Davis was eventually awarded a Silver Star Medal, the Army’s third-highest combat medal, as an interim honor, but members of Davis’s team have argued that his skin color was a factor in his Medal of Honor recommendation disappearing.
“I believe someone misplaced the paperwork on purpose,” Ron Deis, a junior member of Davis’ team at Bong Son, told the AP in a separate interview.
Deis, now 79, helped put together the recommendation submitted in 2016.
He said he knew that Davis had been recommended for the Medal of Honor shortly after the battle in 1965, and he spent years wondering why Davis had not been awarded the medal. Nine years ago, he learned that a second nomination had been submitted “and somehow it was also lost.”
“But I don’t think they were lost,” Deis said. “I believe they were deliberately thrown out. They were thrown out because he was black, and that’s the only conclusion I can draw.’
Army officials say there is no evidence of racism in Davis’s case.
“We’re here to celebrate him receiving the award a long time ago,” Major General Patrick Roberson, deputy commander of the US Army Special Operations Command, told the AP. “We, the military, you know, we haven’t been able to see anything that would say, ‘Hey, this is racism.'”
“We can’t know,” Roberson said.
In early 2021, Christopher Miller, then the acting Secretary of Defense, ordered an expedited review of Davis’s case. Later that year, he argued in an opinion column that awarding Davis the Medal of Honor would address an injustice.
“Some issues in our country are above partisanship,” Miller wrote. “The Davis case meets that standard.”